French Country Waterways
If a laid-back voyage through scenic and little-trodden French countryside — a pace broken only by leisurely visits to centuries-old villages, châteaux, and wineries — sounds like your vacation speed, look no further than the intimate barge cruises of French Country Waterways. This polished, American-owned operation runs a fleet of five high-end, 8- to 18-passenger hotel barges that ply the French canal system with itineraries in the Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace-Lorraine, and Loire regions. Onboard, expect plush appointments, an attentive English-speaking European crew, and free-flowing wines paired with market-fresh fare, whipped up by your own private chef.
What We Love
Michelin-Star Dining: While the onboard cuisine is already top-notch, every itinerary also includes a memorable dinner ashore at a standout Michelin-starred restaurant.
Bike Riding: The slow pace of barge travel lends well to independent exploration ashore, best accomplished on one of the vessels' complimentary bicycles.
Best Known For
Haute-Cuisine: Dining is a main event on any sailing — you're in France, after all — especially during lingering four-course dinners. Expect the onboard chef to turn out mouthwatering fare with fresh ingredients from local markets, with plenty of regional cheeses and bakery goods, all complemented by fine (included-in-the-rates) French wines.
Included Excursions: While voyages don't come cheap, they do bundle in plenty of extras, such as well-coordinated guided excursions (usually in a private van) to tour regional castles or go wine tasting at renowned vineyards, for example.
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Who It's Best For
Mature Couples in Search of R&R: The line generally attracts affluent, well-traveled Americans (and some Canadians) ages 50-plus, in search of a slow-paced vacation.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Introverts Needn't Apply: The small size of the barges, combined with the shared mealtimes and group excursions, are best enjoyed by travelers who enjoy social environments.
Elissa Garay is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.